Before seeing My Week With Marilyn, I knew very little about the film's titular character. Like most (younger) people, I was aware that she was beautiful, blonde, a Hollywood icon in the 1950's and to this day, she acted in movies like Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch, and died tragically, and far too young. Even though My Week With Marilyn examines only one minor fraction in her life, when I walked out of that cinema, I felt like I knew a little more about who Marilyn Monroe really was. In that sense, this film is probably one of the most effective biopics I have ever seen. Hit the jump for my review.
The film follows Colin Clark, a young and first time employee of Sir Laurence Olivier's, during production of The Prince and the Showgirl, starring both Olivier and Monroe. As the third assistant director, Colin is pretty low down the food chain, but eagerly seizes the once in a lifetime opportunity to gaze directly into the belly of the beast. He engages not only in the practicalities of producing a large Hollywood film and the tense relationships between the players involved, but also in the private life of Marilyn Monroe herself. The film is not actually a biopic, it's a portrait of a brief moment in the life of the biggest star in the world, as seen through the eyes of one of her infinite devotees. Oh, and by the way, it's a true story, based on Clark's memoir entitled The Prince, The Showgirl and Me.
You've probably heard it somewhere by now, but Michelle Williams is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her turn as Marilyn Monroe. I even mentioned it in a mildly negative light in my last Oscar post. Since she was nothing short of phenomenal, apologies are definitely in order - the talent of Michelle Williams, such a plain Jane (no offence), astounds me every time. It also highlights just how strong this year's best actress category is. Ditch Glenn Close in favour of Tilda Swinton, and it's one of the strongest line-ups in a long time. Anyway, Michelle Williams. As stated above, I'm no expert on Monroe, but from what I've seen of her, Michelle Williams' transformation was spectacular. She looks nothing like Marilyn Monroe in real life, whereas in the film she is Marilyn Monroe. That's the easy part. Her real triumph is the manner in which she captures Monroe's somnambulant character, as if life's pressures (and the pills which eventually killed her) created a semi-permanent, removed, dream-like state in which she subsisted. It may sound a little mushy, but it truly was a joy to behold.
Michelle Williams was not the only person in the film though. She was supported by an impressive cast which, assisted by brisk pacing and snappy dialogue, all performed exceptionally. Kenneth Branagh was superb as Sir Laurence Olivier (and is nominated for an Oscar too), Eddie Redmayne was the perfect choice to play Colin, but my absolute favourite was Dame Judi Dench as legendary British thesp Dame Sybil Thorndyke, a truly wonderful character to watch. Perhaps because Judi Dench may as well have been playing herself.
However, perhaps the greatest quality of My Week With Marilyn (apart from Williams' tour de force) is that it's such a great film about the love of film. Films about films are a dime a dozen, but gaining sincere insight into the "circus" that is filmmaking is a rarity. Indeed, the best scene was in the film within this film, in which Marilyn Monroe performs her little dance number. She entrances two audiences - one on screen and one in front of it. Two for the price of one!